[Editor: This article, written against the transportation of convicts into Australia, was published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 30 October 1850.]
The Australasian movement against transportation.
If any thing were needful to prove the very obvious fact, that transportation to any one of the Australian colonies must be injurious to the whole of them, such proof is supplied by the Return of the Comptroller-General of Van Diemen’s Land, showing the number of expiree and conditionally pardoned convicts who left that colony during the three years 1847, 48, and 49, distinguishing the places to which they proceeded. In this document it is seen that within the period indicated, the number of such convicts who migrated to the neighbouring provinces was 4729, of whom 3814 proceeded to Port Phillip, 401 to Adelaide, 246 to Sydney, and 268 to other places, the “other places,” no doubt, including New Zealand. And if transportation be continued to Van Diemen’s Land, as the Home Government at present intend, and if it be, moreover, extended to Moreton Bay, as some of the squatters in that district avowedly wish, there can be no question that the evil will be a growing one, and a growing one throughout the lengths and breadths of Australia.
Whether the Moreton Bay squatters will stipulate, in their application for convicts, such conditions as might in some degree mitigate the consequences attendant upon the naked system, and whether such stipulations would be faithfully observed by the British Government, we are not prepared to say; but, as regards Van Diemen’s Land, it is quite certain that no mitigations whatsoever are either allowed or intended to be allowed. The most detestable of all the vices inherent in the system, as it was carried on in New South Wales, was that of violating the laws of nature respecting the sexes. It has been repeatedly shown, that for every 100 males transported to this country from first to last, there were transported only 17 females. This fact is sufficiently startling merely as it is indicated by the figures; but when we reflect upon the character of the men thus put off from female society, and upon the actual results known to have ensued, we may well shudder to contemplate a scene so revolting to the instincts of humanity.*
Now in the sister island, this vicious feature of the system still remains, and for aught that appears is intended to remain, in all its hideous deformity. Male convicts are poured upon her shores by thousands, while females are sent out barely by hundreds. During the last year or two, this dreadful operation of the system seems to have been overlooked altogether by the home authorities, for we are not aware that in their more recent speeches and despatches it has been at all adverted to. Thus transportation to Van Diemen’s Land will in this as in other ways continue to exert the most debasing and demoralising influences upon the convicts, whom it will leave twofold more the children of hell than it found them. And this extra debasement and demoralisation will of course spread wherever the convict leaven shall find its way. It will spread over all these colonies without exception.
All these colonies, then, are bound to withstand the plague by every means in their power. Nor with one exception, are they insensible either to the danger which threatens, or to the duty which presses. New South Wales has bestirred herself nobly, and is bestirring herself yet. Van Diemen’s Land, crushed and mangled as she is by the iron hoof of unscrupulous despotism — a despotism which not only mocks at her calamities, but even laughs at its own violated pledges — has established no less than three separate associations for the one purpose of putting down, by moral force, the system which that despotism would fain perpetuate. Port Phillip, too, though at first inclined to content herself with exemption from transportation direct, has become fully alive to the dangers of her contiguity to a penal settlement, and has organised a similar association. New Zealand, also, comparatively remote as she is from the fountain-head of contamination, has caught the alarm, and is prepared for action. South Australia alone remains, for the present, a passive spectator. Let us hope that she will not remain so long, for the official tables show that even her boasted purity of blood does not and cannot escape the infection.
The inhabitants of Moreton Bay are in a most critical position. The Minister has his eyes upon them as a dernier ressort, in the event of Sydney rejecting his convict overtures. They have but to speak the word, and they become an independent colony and a penal settlement. We gather, that in a desire for independence they are pretty unanimous; that a handful of their number are as anxious for convicts as for independence; that the great majority of them would rather reject independence than accept convicts as its price; but that, for want of timely activity and co-operation on the part of the latter, there is danger lest the wishes of the majority should be defeated by the wiles of the minority. This is deplorable! Are there no master-spirits in that fine district to take the lead on the right side? Men of Moreton Bay, beware — beware in time — beware at once — or your country is lost!
We perceive that, in Van Diemen’s Land and Port Phillip, a strenuous effort is being made to get up a Meeting of Anti-Transportation Delegates from each of the four provinces; and it is proposed that the Meeting should be held at Melbourne. Supposing such a meeting to be desirable, we doubt the wisdom of its being held at Melbourne rather than Sydney. The plea that the former city is more central than the latter, is one to which we can attach very little weight, seeing that with the facilities of steam navigation, the difference in the journey is only one of a few hours. And contrasted with the superior claims of Sydney as the acknowledged Australian metropolis, and with the greater influence which the meeting would command if held here than could be expected from it if held in what is at present only a provincial town, and in what, even when the new Act of Parliament shall come into force, will be only the capital of the youngest colony in the group, we think the plea sinks into perfect insignificance.
But we are not prepared to admit that a Meeting of Delegates would be the more excellent way. The members, after all said and done, would have to reduce the result of their deliberations to writing — to pass resolutions and adopt petitions. Cannot this be done in their respective localities? It has been suggested that a general petition, speaking in the name of the confederated colonies of Australia — confederated, that is, in this common cause, and for this common purpose — would obtain many thousands of signatures, and carry great weight in the eyes of Parliament. The suggestion is a good one, and might be carried out by means of epistolary correspondence between the Committees of the several colonies, as it seems to us, quite as effectually as by the less convenient plan of congregated delegates.
* Of the 51,100 male convicts sent to New South Wales between the years 1787 and 1840, the enormous proportion of 42,400 were in this unnatural position; only 8,700 female convicts having been sent out within the same period.
The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 30 October 1850, p. 2
Also published in:
South Australian Gazette and Mining Journal (Adelaide, SA), 23 November 1850, p. 378 (4th page of that issue)
alive = aware of, having knowledge of, interested in, seized with a recognition of something’s importance; active, alert, animated, full of emotion; active, busy, exciting
aught = anything; anything at all, anything whatsoever
Comptroller-General = the head accountant or financial controller of a government or of a government organisation (a comptroller is a government official whose job is to examine and certify accounts)
contiguity = adjoining, being beside, bordering, close together, in physical contact with, in proximity with, near to, next to, touching; a series of items having a continuous physical connection (such as the 48 contiguous states of the USA, which therefore excludes the states of Alaska and Hawaii)
dernier ressort = (French) last resort (as per Old French, also spelt: darrein resort, darrein ressort)
epistolary = of or relating to letters (written correspondence)
fain = happily or gladly; ready or willing; obliged or compelled
fountain-head = the chief, main, original, or principal origin or source of something; a spring which is the origin or source of a creek, stream, or river (also spelt: fountainhead)
home authorities = in an historical Australian context, the British authorities, the British government
Home Government = in an historical Australian context, the British government
leaven = an element or influence which brings about gradual change, modification, or transformation; an agent or substance which is used as an ingredient in dough (or similar food), in order to make it rise
master-spirit = a leading person or entity; the most important person or entity; an important or influential leader in the community, a leading light in a community
Moreton Bay = the area or settlement of Moreton Bay (in the area of Brisbane, Queensland); the Moreton Bay colony (Queensland)
naked = something in its original, plain, or basic state of being, unchanged; unprotected; without disguise; without decoration; without clothes
Port Phillip = the area or settlement of Port Phillip (in the area of Melbourne, Victoria); the Port Phillip colony (Victoria)
return = a report (especially an official report or paper); to report (to submit a document or paper)
sister island = (in the context of Australia) Tasmania
squatter = in the context of Australian history, a squatter was originally someone who kept their livestock (mostly cattle and sheep) upon Crown land without permission to do so (thus illegally occupying land, or “squatting”); however, the practice became so widespread that eventually the authorities decided to formalise it by granting leases or licenses to occupy or use the land; and, with the growth of the Australian economy, many of the squatters became quite rich, and the term “squatter” came to refer to someone with a large amount of farm land (they were often regarded as rich and powerful)
transportation = in the context of the Australian colonies, the transportation of convicts to the colonies, used as a means of punishment
Van Diemen’s Land = the island, now known as Tasmania, originally named Anthoonij van Diemenslandt, by Abel Tasman, in honour of Anthony van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies
[Editor: Changed “bestired herself nobly” to “bestirred herself nobly”, “is bestiring herself” to “is bestirring herself”.]